Monthly Review: September 2001


This monthly review goes out to members of the AGI Government Affairs Program (GAP) Advisory Committee, the leadership of AGI's member societies, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geoscience community that it serves.

Changed Priorities on Capitol Hill
Appropriations End Game
Education Bill Containing Santorum Amendment Still Pending
ANWR at Stake in Energy Debate
House Science Committee Looks at NSF Research Priorities
MTBE Phaseout Bill Passes Senate Committee
Coal-Bed Methane Addressed by House Subcommittee
OMB Releases Guidelines for Federal Information Dissemination
Lautenbacher Named as Nominee to Head NOAA
Fall Intern Arrives, Applications Being Accepted for Spring 2002 Internship
Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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Changed Priorities on Capitol Hill
In early September, Congress was bogged down in partisan bickering on all fronts. The appropriations process was even further behind than usual, and efforts to produce comprehensive energy legislation had slowed in the Senate as gasoline prices fell. Congressional leaders had abandoned hopes of an early October adjournment, and there was talk of staying in session until Christmas. The biggest political imperative was to avoid dipping into the Social Security surplus. It all seems like a long time ago.

Having met the immediate needs of the crisis -- granting war powers, providing $40 billion in emergency funds, and giving recognition to victims and heroic rescue workers -- Congress at month's end was beginning the process of refocusing on prior concerns but in an entirely new context. As Congress takes up old business, many of the old divisions are gradually replacing the extraordinary unity that followed September 11th. But the rancor is largely gone, holding out hope that reasonable compromises can be found in order to keep things moving ahead. Typical was the call by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), reported in Greenwire, to set aside old "habits of partisanship and parochialism" and unify behind the president.

Although national defense, economic stimulus, and airport security measures are clearly at center stage, the president has announced that education remains a top priority for his administration and that he wants an education bill on his desk in October. The White House is wrangling with congressional appropriators over final spending numbers for fiscal year (FY) 2002, which began October 1st. The government is currently running under a two-week continuing resolution at FY 2001 levels. Energy policy is making a comeback based on national security concerns rather than consumer demands. More on each of these topics follows.

Appropriations End Game
After delays related to the tragic events of September 11th and an ever-changing list of priorities, Congress appears poised to steam forward with the appropriation bills.  None of the 13 bills were ready for the president's signature on October 1st, the start of FY 2002.  Despite missing the deadline and running on a continuing resolution, Congress is determined to keep all the bills separate, instead of the omnibus package that has become the norm in recent years. The House and Senate have appointed conferees for seven bills that have passed both chambers. They also have agreed on spending levels for the bills and have tentative agreement with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as well. But the major sticking point right now between Congress and OMB is whether or not OMB will put the final numbers in writing -- House Democrats are particularly concerned about being labeled budget-busters in the elections next year. As soon as the final numbers are released, both the House and the Senate are ready to move several of the bills swiftly, including three key geoscience-related bills -- Interior, Energy & Water, and Commerce.  More information on appropriations is available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/appropsfy2002.html.

Education Bill Containing Santorum Amendment Still Pending
After President Bush signaled that overhauling federal educational programs remained a top priority of the administration, a House-Senate conference has returned to work hammering out a final compromise bill. Meetings have taken place behind closed doors with a tight lock on information. Science education groups are largely being forced to watch from the sidelines as deals are made over the size and scope of new federal math and science partnership programs. Efforts are still ongoing to remove a Senate-passed resolution that singles out biological evolution as a controversial theory. In late August, the leaders of 80 scientific and educational organizations sent a joint letter to Congress opposing the Sense of the Senate resolution introduced by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA). Since that time, a number of additional organizations have signed on to the letter, including several AGI member societies and the federation of biomedical societies that have powered growth of the National Institutes of Health. The letter and current list of 95 signatories can be viewed at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/evolutionletter.html. In the past month, groups opposed to the teaching of evolution have stepped up efforts to use the Santorum resolution to lobby school boards to teach Intelligent Design theory and other forms of creationism. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis.html#evolution.

ANWR at Stake in Energy Debate
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) is seeking to force energy policy onto the Senate's agenda sooner rather than later. Already passed by the House as H.R. 4, comprehensive energy legislation has been pending in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Although committee chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) has said he will start marking up energy legislation as early as this week, Inhofe sought to obtain a guarantee of Senate floor time for H.R. 4 or its counterpart, S. 388, before adjournment this fall. Inhofe introduced two separate amendments to the must-pass FY 2002 Defense authorization bill (S.1438) that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, arguing that energy supplies are important to our military readiness and national security. While other Republicans, most notably Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-AK), agree that national security demands the passage of a national energy policy, they have not supported his tactics. On October 2nd, the Senate voted unanimously to cut off debate on the defense bill, rebuffing Inhofe's efforts. Both Inhofe and Murkowski have vowed to find alternative means to force Senate passage of energy legislation. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/anwr.html.

House Science Committee Looks at NSF Research Priorities
The House Science Subcommittee on Research held a hearing on September 6th regarding the National Science Foundation's (NSF) management and planning for large research projects, including NSF's Major Research Equipment (MRE) account and research facilities.  NSF Director Rita Colwell, National Science Board Vice Chair Anita Jones, and NSF Inspector General Christine Boesz testified on how the agency prioritizes and manages these large projects.  Jones explained that under the current system the science board reviews and prioritizes proposed major projects.  NSF then works to stay within funding parameters provided by the Office of Management and Budget.  Committee members questioned the witnesses on what other steps the agency takes to help insure that priority projects are maintained in the budget and what can been done to improve this process. The first earth science MRE project, EarthScope, was included in the FY 2001 NSF request after receiving National Science Board approval. Congress did not fund it, however, and there were no new starts in the FY 2002 budget request. Hopes are high that EarthScope will be included in NSF's FY 2003 request. More information on the hearing is available on the subcommittee's website at http://www.house.gov/science/research/reshearings.htm.

MTBE Phaseout Bill Passes Senate Committee
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted to approve the Federal Reformulated Fuels Act of 2001 (S.950) during a September 25th voting session.  The legislation calls for a phase out of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) as an additive in reformulated gasoline by 2004.  MTBE is an oxygenate added to gasoline to make it burn cleaner, but has been found to cause cancer and pollute groundwater. S.950, introduced by Sen. Bob Smith (R-NH), would give power to governors to exempt their state from the current Clean Air Act mandate of two-percent oxygen additive in gasoline.  Farm state senators view this proposal as a threat to Midwest ethanol manufacturers because it would also allow states to opt out of using corn-based ethanol, the only other fuel oxygenate available.  Additional opposition comes from several Republican senators, led by Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO), whose concerns stem from a Department of Energy estimate that the bill might reduce gasoline supplies by more than 400,000 barrels per day, thereby increasing the nation's reliance on foreign oil.  These concerns are likely to be addressed as amendments, perhaps in the form of an ethanol incentive package, when the bill reaches the Senate floor. More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/mtbe.html.

Coal-Bed Methane Addressed by House Subcommittee
On September 6th, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held the first hearing specifically on coal-bed methane in the 107th Congress.  Chaired by Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-WY), the subcommittee heard from thirteen witnesses from federal and state government and the private sector on the "orderly development" of coal-bed methane from public lands in western states.  A major obstacle for many coal-bed methane fields is water.  Millions of barrels of water are released from the extraction of coal-bed methane, but there are several questions that are raised -- water quality, aquifer depletion, and salinization of soil.  Coal-bed methane is becoming an increasingly attractive energy source and is likely to receive more attention in future energy policy deliberations.  More on the subcommittee's website at http://www.house.gov/resources/107cong/energy/2001sep06/agenda2001_0906.htm.

OMB Releases Guidelines for Federal Information Dissemination
The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has released new government-wide guidelines for "ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information (including statistical information) disseminated by Federal agencies."  These guidelines aim to improve federally produced information disseminated to the public by requiring federal agencies to develop their own quality criteria and to establish an administrative mechanism to respond to inquiries about the quality of information provided.  In addition to these steps, agencies must provide a report to OMB on the number and nature of complaints received by each agency and how such complaints were resolved. The OMB guidelines are in response to a congressional mandate inserted into last year's FY 2001 Treasury Appropriations bill by Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO). One of the most controversial topics in the congressional order was that data should be "capable of being substantially reproduced."  OMB released guidelines for this provision in interim form and has extended the comment period for 30 days for input directly related to the "reproducibility" criterion.  More information on the OMB guidelines and the previous comment period is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/pubpress/2001-39.html.

Lautenbacher Named as Nominee to Head NOAA
On September 19th, President Bush announced his intentions to nominate Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr. (ret.) to be the new Administrator for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  A former Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Lautenbacher spent the past several months as President of the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education (CORE).  He has a long history of service with the Navy, including service as staff director for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.  Lautenbacher has his Ph.D. from Harvard University in applied mathematics.  Senate approval is necessary for the position of NOAA Administrator, which also carries the title Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, so Lautenbacher will begin the official nomination and confirmation process in the coming weeks.  Meanwhile, Deputy Administrator Scott Gudes will continue as acting NOAA director.  More from the White House website at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010919-13.html.

Fall Intern Arrives, Applications Being Accepted for Spring 2002 Internship
AGI is pleased to welcome Catherine Macris as our 2001 Fall Semester AAPG/AGI Geoscience and Public Policy Intern. A senior geology major at Louisiana State University, Catherine will be spending fourteen weeks at AGI getting a first-hand look at the federal legislative process and the operation of executive branch agencies. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists provides support for these internships. We are seeking outstanding geoscience students with a strong interest in federal science policy for the Spring 2002 AAPG/AGI internship. Applications must be postmarked by October 15, 2001. See http://www.agiweb.org/gapac/intern.html for further information.

Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
Oct. 1-4   AIPG/AEG Annual Mtg   St. Louis MO
Oct. 4-6   AGI Foundation Mtg   Jackson WY
Oct. 9-11   NAE Energy Policy Workshop   Washington DC
Nov. 4-8    GSA Annual Mtg   Boston MA
Nov. 5   Govt Affairs Advisory Cmte Mtg   Boston MA

New Material on Web Site
The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site http://www.agiweb.org/gap since the last monthly update:



Monthly review prepared by Margaret Baker and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program, and Catherine Macris, AAPG/AGI Geoscience Policy Intern.

Sources: American Geophysical Union ASLA 01-25, Boston Globe, E&E News, Greensheets, Greenwire, House Resources Committee, House Science Committee, Library of Congress, USBudget.com, White House, White House Office of Management and Budget.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Posted October 2, 2001


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